Monday, March 14, 2011

Sorting out pairs

After tagging calves, we sort all the pairs out of the calving lot. Doing this reduces confusion - trying to match up cows and calves, especially in the dark, can get very complicated as more and more calves are born for both the humans and the cows. This also gets the cows back out on pasture, which is better for the overall health and happiness of both the cow and calf, and reduces the chances of scours from occurring, in addition to a number of other things.

We write down how many we sort out, after they're physically out of the lot. Here are Holly and I starting on round two. We head any pairs that are ready toward the nearest gate. We also keep things as calm and low-stress as possible.

It's typically a slow process, involving lots of mooing and concern every time a cow loses sight of her calf for an instant. These heifers are good mothers, and very concerned about their babies. They stop a lot and make sure they have their calf, and he's alright. Then you go a little further and repeat. Add in a couple other pairs, like here, and everyone has to sort through the calves every few steps too. It's cute, and fun, so long as you're not in a hurry. If you're in a hurry, you might as well go do whatever you're hurried over, then come back to this.
This is one of my favorite things to do, and my dad was kind enough (or hurried enough) to leave the last three days worth of pairs in the lot for Holly and I sort out Saturday morning.

Then there are the ones that attempt a getaway, or think you want them to head off in another direction. Or, sometimes a calf just feels good and takes off, running and bucking across the pasture. This will cause at least his mother, and possibly all the mothers, to take off after him.

In these instances we stay with the calf, and bring him back to his mom, then get everyone lined back out and headed in the right direction again. This is another task that gets more difficult as the calf gets bigger and more coordinated.
This little guy was just feeling good, and was easy enough to turn back to his anxiously awaiting mother. Young, uncoordinated calves prevent a lot of good mothers from running off or getting away. If she cares about her baby, you can use that to your advantage when sorting or moving pairs.

I was enjoying it. Holly was perturbed he was attempting a runaway.

The cow gathers him back up and heads out. If a calf keeps this up, we might take him on a little lap, and take some of the fun out of running away from his mom. This guy was one attempt away from that, but decided to quit his antics just in time.

We get everyone back in a bunch, and if they haven't made it through the awaiting open gate, start them that way again. Some will just gather up their calf and walk on down the fenceline, find the open gate, and continue on. Others need a little more encouragement. Nobody ever blamed a first calf heifer of being too intelligent either, so you have to that in mind.

We give them lots of space if they're heading the right way. This lessons the confusion and concern over whose calf is whose.

Calves typically follow, and have a tendency to get hung up at gates. Sometimes this is easily fixed, like here, and sometimes you have to go get the cow if she just runs off.

Once out of the calving lot the cows have access to a really high quality alfalfa hay bale. This prevents them from losing condition as they produce milk for their calf and deal with being a young mother. The key thing is getting your first calf heifers to breed back, and if they lose a lot of weight after calving the chances of that are significantly reduced.
This heifers were raised on grass, and know how to graze. They typically head out and graze most of the day, then stop by and eat a little of the bale on their way in for a drink. But, there are also the gluttons, who are camped out by the hay bale 24-7. Once green grass makes its appearance, and they can get adequate nutrition through that grass, they won't get any more hay.

Holly and I had lots of fun. Here we are going after another bunch. It's typically a one, two or three pair at a time deal, and was a great way to spend part of our Saturday.

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